Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Death Valley Makes Yahoo Travel's Worst National Park List. I Respectfully (sort of) Respond

One of the worst national parks in the United States
Humor is difficult. I'm a teacher and a geologist, so I know. Classrooms are a tough enough audience. I cannot imagine being a comedian, needing to come up with quick zingers, and fast but funny responses to hecklers. But there's a fine line between humor and meanness. Some of the funniest shticks involve bringing pompous asses and arrogant dickheads down a notch or two. It rarely works to make the weak and downtrodden your target. It comes off as nasty and mean-spirited.

The travel editors at Yahoo wanted to be funny. They published their version of "the five worst national parks", and admitted it was based on "minimum of research and a heap of biased analysis". They titled it "Our Tax Dollars paid for What?" The parameters listed for their judgement were listed as "Too many people. Lousy facilities. Ridiculously hostile weather." I think they had a real misfire here. It wasn't funny in the least. Why? Because they were making an unwarranted attack on some of America's most precious and neglected resources, and in so doing made it clear that they do not understand the purpose or value of our national parks.
An awful place. It has sand. And rocks. And scorpions and things.

Our national parks, America's Best Idea, are abused and ignored by congress. They always take the brunt of budget cuts (we MUST have the most modern jet planes for our military, but rangers and trash collection in our parks? Forget it). There is a backlog of maintenance work that will take years to complete. The rangers and other park personnel are told year after year to accomplish more with fewer people. There are fewer park rangers today than there were decades ago despite huge increases in park visitation.

Yahoo broke their own rules and picked some of the least crowded parks, and gave some of the most spurious reasons for hating the particular parks. To wit:

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota: It doesn't have enough stalactites and stalagmites. A cave with 140 miles of passageways, the sixth longest in the world, and the best they can do is "not enough stalactites and stalagmites"?

Badlands National Park, South Dakota: Why does South Dakota get all the love in this article? They pick on a place that preserves the native prairie and fossil-filled badlands, and complain that it has grass and badlands.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina: Complaining about a park that has the largest preserved hardwood forest floodplain environment left in the eastern United States because it has bugs and snakes? Pretty wimpy if you ask me. It's an International Biosphere Reserve and Globally Important Bird Area.

Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska: Complaining about a park established for it's unspoiled wilderness because it...has no roads? Because it is wild? And has bugs? Again, pretty wimpy.

And then, their biggest cock-up of all. I haven't been to the other four parks, but their pick for number five? Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada: Why was this their choice? Because it gets HOT. In a DESERT! And there is sand. And rocks. In a DESERT. If you've read any of my work on Death Valley, you'll know why it is one of the most precious geologic treasures in North America.
Really, you DON'T want to go here...
The national parks of our country are there in part to preserve unimpaired for future generations the natural diversity of the lands that made up primeval North America. They are SUPPOSED to preserve examples of the badlands, the caves, the floodplains and swamps, the deserts, and the vast Alaskan wilderness. We visit these parks to LEARN about these places and their history. They are not amusement parks, even though many people seem to think so. Hence, the plans and proposals to put gondola rides in the Grand Canyon (currently) and Yosemite Valley (back in the 1970s).

I can understand the role of a travel writer as a critic. There are some pompous hotels, resorts, and restaurants that rip off their visitors who deserve to be skewered in print. But you can keep your ignorant rants about being offended by bugs. The parks need our support, and your criticism devalues them. I couldn't but notice that Gates of the Arctic is right next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is the next big target of the oil drillers. By denigrating one of the jewels of the park system, they make it easier for those who would destroy them.

In closing, I would like to offer my selection of the worst travel writing web sites. There's just one: Yahoo travel. Why? It has nothing to do with their content, or what we can learn from their articles. It's because they can't edit their own work. They left an entire word out of a sentence in their description of Death Valley. And that completely nullifies anything they have to say. You know...kind of like being bothered by mosquitoes in a national park.
Looking desperately for something of value in a Yahoo article (photo by Mrs. Geotripper)

I missed the article when it first came out in late January. More responses to the article (I guess to Yahoo, negative publicity is good publicity):
From the National Park Service:
From the Wilderness Society:


P. Michael Hutchins said...

Not that your article needs it, but my wife & I love love love Death Valley!

We've spent a week there about a half-dozen times.
...and that's from Boston (not next-door)

It's so wonderful to hike the canyons and see all the geology exposed there - even though we're not hikers, and don't know all that much about the geology.

rocking R rustics said...

Well said!

Gaelyn said...

I knew there was a reason I don't Yahoo. What a bunch of crap. So typical of today's media to knock down instead of build up. Great rebuttal. Will be visiting Death Valley in a few weeks.